J.Duncan Spaeth: 1910/21

Published 1910/1911, in Early English Poems, by Pancoast and Spaeth, with the following preface:

The poem translated below, has been interpreted as a dialogue between a weather-beaten old sailor and a youth eager to go to sea. The parts are not assigned in the original MS, and the only warrant for our dialogue form lies in the structure of the poem itself.

Subsequently published in Old English Poetry; Princeton 1921



The Old Sailor:


True is the tale that I tell of my travels

Sing of my seafaring sorrows and woes;

Hunger and hardship's heaviest burdens,

Tempest and terrible toil of the deep,

Daily I've borne on the deck of my boat

Fearful the welter of waves that encompassed me,

Watching at night on the narrow bow,

As she drove by the rocks, and drenched me with spray.

Fast to the deck my feet were frozen,

Gripped by the cold, while care's hot surges

My heart o'erwhelmed, and hunger's pangs

Sapped the strength of my sea-weary spirit.


Little he knows whose lot is happy,

Who lives at ease in the lap of the earth,

How, sick at heart, o'er icy seas,

Wretched I ranged the winter through,

Bare of joys, and banished from friends,

Hung with icicles, stung by hail-stones.

Nought I heard but the hollow boom

Of wintry waves, or the wild swan's whoop.

For singing I had the solan's scream;

For peals of laughter, the yelp of the seal;

The sea-mew's cry, for the mirth of the mead-hall.

Shrill through the roar of the shrieking gale

Lashing along the sea-cliff's edge,

Pierces the ice-plumed petrel's defiance,

And the wet-winged eagle's answering scream.


Little he dreams that drinks life's pleasure,

By danger untouched in the shelter of towns

Insolent and wine-proud, how utterly weary

Oft I wintered on open seas.

Night fell black, from the north it snowed

Harvest of hail.


The Youth: Oh wildly my heart

Beats in my bosom and bids me to try

The tumble and surge of seas tumultuous,

Breeze and brine and the breakers' roar.

Daily, hourly, drives me my spirit

Outward to sail, far countries to see.

Liveth no man so large in his soul,

So gracious in giving, so gay in his youth,

In deeds so daring, so dear to his lord,

But frets his soul for his sea-adventure,

Fain to try what fortune shall send.

Harping he heeds not, nor hoarding of treasure;

Nor woman can win him, nor joys of the world.

Nothing doth please but the plunging billows;

Ever he longs, who is lured by the sea.

Woods are abloom, the wide world awakens,

Gay are the mansions, the meadows most fair;

These are but warnings, that haste on his journey

Him whose heart is hungry to taste

The perils and pleasures of the pathless deep.


The Old Sailor:


Dost mind the cuckoo mournfully calling?

The summer's watchman sorrow forebodes.

What does the landsman that wantons in luxury,

What does he reck of the rough sea's woe,

The cares of the exile, whose keel has explored

The uttermost parts of the ocean-ways!


The Youth:


Sudden my soul starts from her prison-house,

Soareth afar o'er the sounding main;

Hovers on high, o'er the home of the whale;

Back to me darts the bird-sprite and beckons,

Winging her way o'er woodland and plain,

Hungry to roam, and bring me where glisten

Glorious tracts of glimmering foam.

This life on land is lingering death to me,

Give me the gladness of God's great sea.

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